Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Author Spotlight - T.J. Koll

I had the pleasure of recently reading a great book called Shadows of Wormwood. You can find my review of that HERE.

In my correspondence with the author, he agreed to do an interview for my blog and I am so happy to be able to feature him and his work! He is a tremendous writer, and I highly recommend his novel. I think after reading this interview you will agree that Koll has a way with words, and his personality really does come through in his writing!

From the author's website, here is a little background on T.J.:

T.J. Koll is an award-winning author and college writing instructor currently living in eastern Kentucky. When not penning novels like Shadows of Wormwood or The Sultan, he can usually be found spending time with his lovely wife or chasing after his spirited two-year-old son.

In addition to his writing credits, T.J. also holds both a B.A. and M.A. in English, enjoys the outdoors and bad zombie movies (not really at the same time), and is passionate about helping others improve their writing skills.

For T.J., writing isn't merely a form of communication; rather, it is a method for exploring the inner and outer world, for participating in one's community, and for intimately connecting with other human beings. With this philosophy in mind, he attempts to craft fiction and non-fiction that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

And now on to the interview:

1. Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.

Read. Write. Repeat.

2. What is your favorite genre of literature?

That’s a tough one. I love the works of many contemporary authors, including several outside the U.S. During graduate school, however, I studied a great deal of Victorian literature, and I suppose it really got into my soul. My favorites are Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, though George Eliot definitely has a place in my heart as well. While Victorian authors were usually rather long-winded, I appreciate the big questions they attempt to tackle in their fiction—questions about humanity’s purpose, the ills of so-called “western” society, the nature of our universe, etc. If literature is the best way to study the “soul” of humanity—and I believe it is—then Victorian literature is a fine representative of that purpose and tradition.

3. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I really don’t remember a specific point when I made that decision. I’d always enjoyed writing stories, even back into elementary school. After I got married in my early twenties, I at last took a crack at putting some serious focus on my writing. The learning curve was steep, and I spent several years practicing and facing rejection and practicing yet more. That experience, while not always pleasant, taught me a great deal about persistence and discipline, and it helped me develop my personal writing style.

4. What would you consider to be the best book you have ever read?

Do you mean besides my own?? Just kidding. I can’t really think of an absolute favorite piece of fiction, as there are so many that mean a great deal to me in different ways. I can, however, say that Stephen King’s On Writing is the best writing book I’ve read. While I can’t claim to be a huge fan of his fiction, I devoured this non-fiction text, reading it several times over. King has a way of capturing his reader that is simply awesome—probably why he’s been so successful—and I find his advice in the book genuine and straightforward, devoid of pretense or pontification.

5. Describe the process of getting a book self-published.

I’ve been fortunate enough to explore several publication avenues in my career, from self-publishing to small house presses to major traditional publishers; and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Early in my career, I was absolutely against self-publishing, as it was incredibly expensive, too closely associated with “vanity” publishing (yes, I consider them quite different now), and weren’t widely accepted by audiences. Now, however, technology has vastly changed the game. Self-publishing is very inexpensive--if done right—quite easy, and can reach enormous audiences. While it’s true that many poorly written and edited pieces can be found in this publishing category, there are also many wonderful and serious authors who use it to reach niche markets that may be too small for traditional publishers.
6. What message do you want readers to take away from Shadows of Wormwood?

There are a few messages that gradually developed as I wrote the book. First, I wanted people to recognize the very real dangers of modern bullying. Such harassment can and does destroy young lives, and it needs to be taken seriously. Secondly, and perhaps more ambitiously, I want people to take a good look at how our society twists nearly every event into a crisis. Every virus seems ready to become an epidemic, every negative economic report equals a national financial meltdown, and every war sends us closer to the brink of worldwide destruction. Sure, sometimes disasters do occur and they are horrific, but usually the media’s sensationalism proves to be just that—sensationalism. Instead, we need to focus on living fully, showing compassion and understanding to others, and taking care of those we love.

7. In the novel your main character is Bitsy – explain why you chose her and how you developed her character.

For me, Bitsy represents modern youth—rebellious, intelligent, and far too ready for grow up and be independent without realizing what comes with such independence. I initially based her on the stories my mother-in-law told me about her at that age, but slowly the character grew and evolved into her own person. She actually struggled against me quite a bit during the rough draft, as I had a vision of what she should be and do, but Bitsy and those wonderful conflicts in her personality always won the argument.

8. What are you working on now, and what are your future writing plans?

I’m currently taking a break from fiction and have just completed a composition textbook under contract with a major educational publisher. The project is still in the early editing stages, so I don’t have a firm release date, but I’m sincerely hoping it will help high school and college students improve their writing skills without overwhelming them. Rather than trying to show students what to do in any and every writing situation they may encounter—which is what most composition textbooks do—this piece helps students learn a fresh approach to writing so they can make good writing decisions on their own.

Click HERE to visit T.J. Koll's website
Click HERE for an excerpt from Shadows of Wormwood

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